15 Fitness Tips From 1800s Bodybuilder Eugen Sandow That Are Still Good Today

At the turn of the last century, there were only a handful of fitness enthusiasts America turned to for wellness tips that didn’t involve enemas or strange contraptions. One of them was Eugen Sandow (1867-1925), a German-born bodybuilder who appeared to be carved from marble. Sandow’s physique was so impressive that he regularly toured to perform feats of strength; other times, he simply stood on stage like a statue while a gawking audience counted his abs.

But Sandow wasn’t content merely to be admired: He wrote books, started his own magazine (Physical Culture), wrestled a muzzled lion for the sport of it, and regularly opined on how his pear-shaped fans could work toward better physiques. While not all the advice was salient, Sandow did have a grasp of fitness principles that magazines and coaches have gone on to repeat for decades. Here’s what the pioneering bodybuilder had to say to those seeking the body of a Greek god.


In his 1897 book, Strength and How to Obtain It, Sandow advised readers that sitting down and straining one’s muscles was virtually as good as hitting the weights. “When you are sitting down reading practice contracting your muscle,” he wrote. “Do this every time you are sitting down leisurely, and by contracting them harder and harder each time, you will find that it will have the same effect as the use of dumb-bells or any more vigorous form of exercise.”

While we know today that you need a balanced fitness regimen (one that includes both cardiovascular exercise and weight training) in order to stay healthy, Sandow was ahead of the curve when it came to incorporating exercise into stationary periods of your daily routine.


The idea that women could become overly masculine or muscle-bound due to weight training was an idea that persisted well into the 20th century, but Sandow was quick to shoot it down:

“The influence of exercise on the bodily frame of women is, strange to say, still indifferently recognized. The prevalent idea is that muscular exercise of any active kind, for a young girl, coarsens and makes a boy of her. The idea is a delusion; mischievous, indeed, when we realize the value to a growing girl of gymnastics, in their milder form of calisthenics; and its evil results are seen not only in the ailments, among many others, to which we have just referred; but also in the absence of comeliness, grace, and that beauty and shapeliness of physical contour which we associate with a perfectly-formed and finely-conditioned woman.”


Even though Sandow looked like an anatomy chart, he never endorsed weightlifting for purely aesthetic reasons. Fitness, he wrote, could have a beneficial effect on your digestive system. “Muscular exercise improves the powers of nutrition and stimulates and strengthens the digestive apparatus … a salutary effect can also be exerted on the bowels and intestines, which otherwise not infrequently become torpid," he wrote. "The effect of exercise on the secretions is no less beneficial, for accelerated circulation, it is well known, hastens the gathering up of the waste matter in the body and its exudation by the great organs of excretion—the skin, the lungs, and the kidneys.”


While preaching the benefits of a nice, cold bath—something modern researchers have endorsed for recovering from muscle soreness in some instances—Sandow implored his followers not to towel off afterward. Instead, he told them to stop being children and just tolerate being in wet clothes:

“I have no hesitation in saying that this is a great mistake. Let me explain the reason: As you get out of the bath you rub down first one part of the body and then the other, and thus, whilst one part is being warmed by the friction, the other is getting cold. Many people who take cold baths in this way complain of touches of rheumatism, and the whole trouble arises, I believe, from different parts of the body being alternately warmed and chilled…If you do not like the idea of getting into your clothes wet, just take the water off the body as quickly as you possibly can with a dry towel, jump into your clothes, and let Nature restore your circulation in her own way.”


“If I had a boy,” Sandow said, “I should start him with ½-lb. dumb-bells when he was two years old, and then gradually increase the weight with his years. My idea is that boys from ten to twelve should have 3-lb. dumb-bells; from twelve to fifteen, 4-lb.; and from fifteen upwards, I consider 5-lb. dumb-bells quite sufficient for any one … It should be compulsory in all schools for boys to have regular training with dumb-bells, and if this were universal there would soon be a most beneficial change in the physique of the rising generation.”


Sandow maintained he achieved his physique strictly through the use of barbells and dumbbells, avoiding any complicated gym apparatus. “I have never fancied, nor found need for, the elaborate equipment of the modern gymnasium,” he wrote. “Nor have I ever exercised except on the ground, eschewing such appurtenances as the trapezium, the rings, the plank, the ladder, the mast, the vertical pole, and other paraphernalia of gymnastic training.”


“It is desirable to exercise before a looking-glass,” Sandow wrote. “For you can thus follow the movements of the various muscles; and to see the muscles at work, and to mark their steady development, is itself a help and a pleasure.”


Open a bodybuilding magazine today and you’ll see variations on the advice Sandow was passing out from the beginning: Keep weights, rep, and volume mixed up to keep your body in a constant state of response. “Don’t always train with the same amount of weight,” he wrote. “Some days use more moderate weights to tone the muscles, on other training days really exert yourself, give the muscles plenty of work to do, then nature will take care of building more strength, muscle and better health.”


“Let me say that tea and coffee contains alkaloids, which are injurious to the nerves and stomach,” Sandow wrote. “I never drink either. Water is nature’s offering to the thirsty, and when distilled can not be improved upon.”


Despite having the body of an action figure, Sandow claimed he never sweated over his diet—he just didn’t enjoy anything in excess. “It may be said at once that I have no belief in special diet. There is no better guide to good living than moderation. Be moderate in all things, and you need fear no interruption in gaining strength by my system of training.”

Sound thinking, although Sandow probably wouldn’t have thrilled the Surgeon General. “A man should be denied nothing which he desires within certain limits,” he once said. “I never refuse myself anything—I take wine, beer, smoke, and take a turn all round as other men who make the most of life ... I just eat and drink what I want, when I want, and in what quantities I want.”


According to Sandow, exercising indoors was a fate to be avoided at all costs:

 “Exercise, I would also impress upon the young reader, ought to be taken in a well-ventilated place, not in a contracted bedroom or thronged hall, where the atmosphere is likely either to be close, and therefore poisonous, or contaminated by many breaths, each throwing off at every expiration about twenty cubic inches of impure air, which occasion headaches, labored breathing, and stagnation of the life-processes.”


While Sandow bemoaned the ill effects of a sedentary desk job, he lacked interest in walking for walking’s sake, calling it “tedious” and “defective.” Instead, he advocated bicycling. “Each week the bicycler acquires an added skill, and power which could not be done the week before.” And while he found horseback riding “exhilarating,” he admitted bikes would be the more practical mode of transport for most: “A clerk on a salary of fifteen or twenty-five dollars a week, to whom the purchase and keep of a horse would be impracticable, can easily buy a good cycle, which, with reasonable care, should last for many years, requires no feed and almost no expense for keeping it in order.”


Sandow would have had no patience for people who try to conserve energy by crawling into a bed while the ambient temperature is below 50 degrees. “The surface of the body is chilled and the internal organs congested,” he wrote. “In a warm room one is disposed to disrobe slowly, a sponge bath or a plunge is agreeable, and a little exercise is a pleasure. Then sleep comes gladly and without wooing.”


Calling corsets and small shoes “incalculable evils,” Sandow lobbied for women to rid their wardrobes of clothing that prioritized looks over comfort. “With these objectionable things discarded, or structurally modified, so that they will not occasion the ills for which they are now responsible, the health and vigor of women would sensibly improve, the resort to cosmetics would become unnecessary, and the nervous disorders and ailing feeling, which deprive the sex of half the joy of life, would vanish.”


Sandow never minced words when it came to the discomfort the pursuit of physical fitness—or life—can sometimes provoke:

“It sometimes happens that a young man or woman, or perhaps a middle aged one, sets out on the course of training with the greatest enthusiasm. After the first two or three days the enthusiasm perhaps wears off. Then comes a period of stiffness, and the pupil is inclined to think that he cannot be bothered to proceed with the course. To such pupils, I would say, in all earnestness, "Don't be overcome by apparent difficulties; if you wish to succeed, go forward; never draw back."

Additional Sources
Strength and How to Obtain It [PDF]; Sandow on Physical Training; “How to Preserve Strength and Attain Health,” Cosmopolitan, May 1894 [PDF].

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]